1. Historically, a “will” was used to distribute of real estate after one’s death and a “testament” was used to dispose of personal property. Today those instructions are combined into a single document, called a “last will and testament.”
2. When British Scientist James Smithson bequeathed his estate to the United States of America, to found the Smithsonian Institution in 1829 he had never visited the United States.
3. The record for the longest will ever probated is held by an English woman, Frederica Evelyn Stilwell Cook --1066 pages and 95,940 words.
4. In contrast, the shortest known wills are each three words long. Indian Bimla Rishi’s will read “all to son” and German Karl Tausch’s read “all to wife.”
5. A recent study estimates that 11 percent of people included their Internet passwords in their last will and testament.
6. Famous Americans who died without a valid will include Sonny Bono, Kurt Cobain, John Denver, Chris Farley, Howard Hughes and Martin Luther King, Jr.
7. In his last will and testament, the late actor and comedian Del Close “gave” his skull go to a Chicago theatre so he could “play” Yorick in Hamlet after his death.
8. The “will of Uah” is the oldest-known will in existence. It was found in a tomb in Egypt and dates to 2548 B.C. In it, Uah leaves all of his property to his wife Teta.
9. Historians have also found a power of attorney from Mesopotamia that dates to 561 B.C. In it, a man authorizes his brother to conduct business on his behalf.
10. Although some estate planning tools have been used for thousands of years, others are much more recent. In September 1976, California became the first state to legalize the use of the living will, which gives people control over their end-of-life medical treatment.
11. No matter your net worth, it's important to have a basic estate plan in place.
12. An estate plan has several elements. They include: a will; assignment of power of attorney; and a living will or health-care proxy (medical power of attorney). For some people, a trust may also make sense.
13. Taking inventory of your assets is a good start.
14. Everybody (read: you!) needs a will.
15. Trusts and planning aren't just for the wealthy.
16. Discuss your estate planning with your heirs potentially preventing disputes or confusion.
17. You may leave an unlimited amount of money to your spouse tax-free, but this isn't always the best tactic.
Whitaker Hagenow & Gustoff LLP represents businesses, farms and individuals in estate planning, probate, criminal defense, civil litigation and business counseling and advice. We can offer comprehensive and creative solutions to complex legal problems along with unparalleled client service and a true commitment to obtaining the best result possible. Find us @ whgllp.com.